What does it take to make a six-foot-two, 335-pound football player feel safe? For Danny Shelton, all it takes is a little hound.
The Cleveland Browns defensive lineman can credit workouts like lifting lava boulders in his mother’s native Samoa for his impressive physical strength, but his inner strength has come courtesy of a Pit Bull named Moni.
“Daddy’s Little Girl” has been by Shelton’s side since his college days at the University of Washington, when his brother’s unexpected death nearly caused Shelton to give up football altogether. Instead, Shelton became a team leader and academic All-American, thanks to the stabilizing influence of his furry sidekick.
“Moni was my savior,” says Shelton. “There were a lot of ups and downs in college but with Moni there it all worked out. I’m super blessed and thankful I decided to get Moni. She reassured me I could make a change.”
Today, Shelton is in his third season playing with the NFL and Moni is certified as his Emotional Support Pet. They’ve also grown from a family of two, to a pack of six—including Shelton’s fiancée Mara, whom he proposed to with a little help from the newest Shelton, a French Bulldog named Juju.
“Mara warned me five times I can’t come back home [from training in California] with another dog,” says Shelton, who already had a full house with Moni; her sister Juicy, a 3-year-old Husky; and brother Mojo, a 1-year-old Husky/Malamute mix.
But when Shelton met Mara at the airport with a puppy and a proposal, all that went out the window. “Juju’s collar said ‘will you marry me’ and when she looked at it, that was all that needed to be said,” says Shelton.
Like any family, the Sheltons have their share of big personalities. While Moni is content to cuddle, Shelton says Juicy is his drama queen, while Mojo is the family’s all-star athlete, and Juju (“the spoiled one”) just tries to keep up with everyone on his short little Bulldog legs.
When they’re not at the dog park, playing backyard tug of war, obedience training or celebrating holidays (the Sheltons go big: last year they had a steak-stuffed Easter egg hunt for the dogs), the football star and his family dedicate themselves to promoting pet health.
In addition to endorsing the Honest Kitchen brand, the furry Sheltons have helped raise awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke for pets, and Shelton himself speaks out about the importance of pet insurance—a lesson he learned firsthand when Juicy tore her ACL and needed a $4,000 surgery.
“At the time I was skeptical about pet insurance,” says Shelton. “Then Mojo fractured his front leg and we were back at the ER. I never realized within the first year [of life] that they can get these illnesses and injuries. Now I don’t have to worry about taking them to the vet because I know I have help from Petplan.”
A helping hand (or paw) in hard times has certainly transformed life for Danny Shelton—and it’s a gift he sees fit to pay forward.
When Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas in August, he made a $25,000 donation to Petplan’s relief efforts in support of Best Friends Animal Society, The Humane Society of the United States and North Shore Animal League America. And Shelton says he eventually wants to go to veterinary school and open his own animal shelter.
For now, he’ll keep fans cheering on Sundays as he prepares for his upcoming wedding, which will include both the two- and four-legged members of his family. With a loving bride, and Moni and her siblings by his side, a happy future for Shelton seems like a pretty safe bet.
— published in fetch! magazine, the “Safe & Hound” issue